New Research on Student Engagement Best Practices
Author: firstname.lastname@example.org (Victoria A Davis, Cool Cat Teacher)
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From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Engagement is such a challenge for schools—now more than ever. Lots of anecdotal evidence is floating around, but right now, we need answers for what produces strong student engagement. We can dig in and find that in some excellent research from the 2020 State of Engagement report. In this blog post, I’ll share my observations and give you links to the report so you can read it for yourself.
To help you get closer to these answers, I recommend that all of you read GoGuardian’s 2020 State of Engagement Report. This report isn’t about the software—it is about better practices to bring more robust engagement to our classrooms. I interviewed the lead researcher on this report on the 10 Minute Teacher this week.
Their research is intended to help us understand how to better use digital learning and teaching tools to maximize students’ success, which I’m sure many of you can agree has had its challenges this year. This report gives us an overview of what works best at the admin, school, and classroom levels to engage students and provides us with a picture of what engaged students should look like.
I recommend that you download the 2020 State of Engagement report and check out all their findings and suggestions yourself, but here are some elements that I pulled out of the report and would like to emphasize. I appreciate GoGuardian pulling this research forward for our conversation and reflection.
Engagement Is Multi-Faceted & Dynamic
The 2020 State of Engagement Report first observes the themes of engagement (Pages 7-9). Although we struggle to understand what engagement is, it is one of those things that when you’re in the classroom, you know it is there.
However, there are multiple factors we have to consider when a student is engaged. For example, a student may be very interested if a teacher is talking about an upcoming soccer game, but it may not relate to the course content. So, I think the report starts well by depicting engagement as dynamic and multi-faceted because it helps us begin the conversation about what it means to be engaged.
I believe the opening portion of the report would make a great conversation piece for a staff meeting or leadership retreat so teachers and administrators can understand genuine engagement—especially since this is such a struggle right now.
Ultimately, the final section is perhaps one of the most important because it can help us evaluate our students, ourselves, and our school.
“What an engaged student does” (Page 35-44) gives us the things that students do from a behavioral, cognitive, and emotional perspective so we can recognize engagement. Learning engagement produces an emotional response, as well as cognitive and behavioral ones. As a teacher who loves learning, I adore that emotional response because I know kids love learning, and I respond to them and enjoy teaching even more when that sort of engagement happens in my classroom.
Factors That Influence Student Engagement
The report analyzes the different district, school, and classroom level factors that influence our students’ engagement (Pages 10-27). Again, I suggest you read the whole report, but I’m going to pull out just a few points for your consideration as I reflect.
Based on GoGuardian’s research, they found the district can significantly influence student engagement, as many factors that come from this level affect the success of schools. The different influences at this level, I believe, are essential for us to keep in mind when we think about better engaging our students and how it relates to the success of our schools.
The first factor, the level of funding, had an interesting point that grants at the district level can improve engagement as teachers apply for and seek the funding to enhance their classrooms. Pilot programs, in my opinion, could also help in this way.
Additionally, the report shares the challenging, yet necessary, task of creating district policies that reflect the classroom’s needs. As I always say, “You have to relate before you educate,” but I’d take this one step further: districts have to relate to the classroom so that classrooms can better educate.
And for the last factor (infrastructure), I’m sure we can all agree that a robust and reliable support system for schools can change the entire dynamic of our schools, our classrooms, and the way we teach. This infrastructure, too, can impact what students are getting out of our classrooms. Randy Ziegenfuss told me in “Secrets of Great District Leadership” episode 178 of the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast:
“District office folks are important because you are the folks that initially get the ball rolling in terms of an audacious vision.”
Schools are a team, and classrooms are impacted by their district policies and plans—perhaps even more now that many schools are in distance learning.
What I want to mention from the school level section relates to both influences of student engagement that this study found:
- delivery of professional development and
- the presence of robust processes and protocols for choosing your classroom tools (Page 13).
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that our ability to use technology effectively in the classroom can be a defining mark on whether our students are focused or not. If we’re not comfortable with the technology we use, students notice. If we’re uncomfortable with our technology, we also lose our students’ attention. Our level of knowledge of the technologies we use or may use in the future (when many of us are still teaching virtually especially) is affecting how our students respond to us and the materials we teach.
With both of these factors in mind, if engagement is something you or your school wants to improve on at the school level, I suggest starting a conversation with your decision-makers, principals, IT directors, administrators, and teachers about this report. This could help to seek better solutions that work for you and your school.
Be sure to check out:
- “Things that an engaged school does” (Page 32) and
- “Things that an engaged classroom does” (Page 33-34)
With this research in hand, you can discuss your school’s strengths and areas for improvement. This may better help you reach the outcomes you want in your classrooms and make sure that you are using the tools that fit the needs of the classroom and are still comfortable for you to use.
First, review the four elements from this report that influence students’ learning (Page 15). As with anything, pick one as a place to start.
I believe we can use this report as a guide to understanding what shapes our classroom and the tools we can use to change it for the better. That change can be through understanding your classroom’s design, mindset, or activities to better suit your digital lessons.
The 2020 State of Engagement Report can spark discussions based on the research around engagement at all organization levels, from the front office to school districts, classrooms, and students’ and teachers’ behavior. I’ve given you an overview. I hope you’ll dig in!
Download this report here to see the research on best practices for student engagement.